31 Questions to Ask Before Joining a Country Club
Updated October 2023 to add a video version of post.
Over the last four months, I’ve had a surprising number of people ask me questions about joining country clubs.
With golf experiencing a bit of a resurgence, there’s a chance that perhaps you’re thinking of joining one yourself.
I’ve learned a lot over the last decade of club membership about what to look for in a new golf club, things to consider that you may not have thought about, and what questions to ask before you join a country club.
This post covers all of those.
I’ll share some of the hard lessons I’ve learned because I didn’t ask the right questions early on. But my hope is that this post helps you find the right club for your goals, and makes being a member of a country club or golf club a positive experience, rather than a burden.
Here are 31 questions to ask before joining a club, to make sure you’re making the right move for yourself and your family.
1) Do you want a golf club or a country club?
For starters, understanding the difference between a golf club and a country club is important.
Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably, but generally speaking a country club has more amenities and a greater social scene beyond golf. A country club will usually have a pool, tennis courts, pickleball courts, a gym, and so on.
They’re often more family-oriented with a greater emphasis on social events, as opposed to just activities revolving around the golf course.
A golf club on the other hand generally refers to a club that is all about the golf. Usually, you won’t find all of those extra amenities, and the social activities are more focused on the golf course than anything else.
And you may not care if they have the course you want, but it’s worth considering.
2) What is your goal in joining a club?
To that end, being clear about why you’re joining a club will help narrow down if a club is right for you. Some things to consider:
- Do you only care about the golf?
- Is it for just you, or your family?
- Are you hoping to find new clients there?
- Are you planning to host clients?
- Will you use it for more than just golf?
Having clear answers to those questions should help you to decide if a golf club or country club is a better fit.
3) Is it a golf course you like to play?
No matter how good of a deal a club is, if you don’t like the golf course? It’s not going to be worth it for you.
The first club I joined, I did so because it was incredibly affordable. The problem? I didn’t love the golf course. You can only handle so many dogleg lefts when you have a huge slice.
So make sure you do a preview round of the course, and that it’s one you’ll be excited about playing on a regular basis.
4) Is the Club an Equity or Non-Equity Club?
Essentially equity clubs are owned by the members. You have equity in the club itself. There are pros and cons to this. You’ll have voting rights, and the ability to run for club president or be on the board/various committees.
Equity clubs are great because the membership has a greater say in how the club is operated and where money is spent.
But it’s not without its downsides. If there are major repairs or updates it can be on the membership to pay for them in the way of increased dues or assessments.
It can also be more difficult to resign your membership. If your club isn’t in high demand, there may be a one-in, one-out rule. This means that you can’t resign your membership, until someone new comes along to take it. And if there’s a waitlist, it can be months or years before you can get out of it.
The good news is usually you can get back a portion of your initiation fee in this model.
A non-equity club is usually owned by an individual or a corporation.
Again these come with pros and cons. For instance, my home club is owned by an ownership group that is based out of state. Here are a few pros:
- We don’t have to worry about assessments.
- They pay for all capital improvements to the course and club.
- No food or beverage minimums
- Can resign at any time
That said, there are some negatives as well:
- Little say on where money gets spent
- Policies and fees can change at a moments notice with little to no input from members
- If your club is doing well, but the owner has other clubs that aren’t doing well – you could end up subsidizing those other clubs, rather than see improvements to your own.
- Difficult to get your voice heard.
- Likely not going to get initiation back if you resign
Neither equity or non-equity is necessarily better than the other – but they’re operated very differently, and there can be different expenses associated with each. So it’s important to ask questions about how it works going into your prospective membership
5) Is the course well-maintained?
This will matter more to some people than others. For instance, the Golf Course at Yale? Usually a little rough around the edges, but it’s easy to overlook because the course is so good.
Other courses can make up for design deficiencies by having a well-maintained course and great experience.
If the course isn’t well maintained, that may also be indicative of other budgetary concerns you should ask about before joining.
6) Do you have to walk, ride, or take a caddie?
Most courses will give you the option to do any of these three, but not all.
Some higher-end courses may be walking only and require you to take a caddie during most rounds.
If you’re someone who likes to ride in a cart, this may be problematic. Not to mention, you can add $80-100+ per round to cover the cost of the caddie.
Other courses, can be cart only.
Make sure you understand the club policies around these things so that you ensure you get to enjoy the game the way you prefer.
7) Does the course have a good reputation in the area? Nationally?
This isn’t necessarily a huge deal, but your club’s reputation can have an impact on the rest of your golf life.
For instance, the first club I was at wasn’t known nationally and didn’t have a great reputation locally. They raised their guest fees by 50% not long after I joined, so my friends who weren’t members rarely wanted to join me, because it was a premium price, for a so-so course.
My current club has a very good reputation both locally and nationally. It’s a place people want to play when they come to town, and friends here view it as a treat when they’re able to come out.
Not to mention that it can be easier to have my pro call and get me on places while I travel, due to our club’s good reputation.
Give a little thought to what’s important to you in this regard. You may not care at all, but if you do, I’ve found this to have more of an impact than I expected.
8) What is the initiation fee?
Initiation fees vary wildly by club and location. For instance, the average club in the NYC area will likely cost you at least $50,000. Whereas if you’re in a smaller local market, you might find more clubs in the $5,000 to $20,000 range.
You may find the perfect club, and be willing to make the dues payments – but if the initiation is out of reach, it’s a bit of a non-starter.
To that end….
9) Is there a payment plan for the initiation fee?
Many clubs will offer a no-interest payment plan to allow you to pay your initiation over a number of years. Each club varies here, so be sure to ask about what financing options are available.
Often you may find that a club you expected to be out of reach financially has ways to make it work for you if you decide it’s important enough to you.
It’s worth noting that some clubs will differ in how these payment plans work.
For instance, some will have you sign a promissory note to pay. So even if you decide to leave the club, you may be on the hook for the entire initiation regardless of if you leave the club before it’s paid off.
Others, might not have this, and if you leave before you’ve finished your initiation, you won’t get anything back, but you won’t have to pay it all off after you leave.
So be sure to ask about how this works if you’re not paying it all upfront.
10) Is there a junior or executive membership?
If you’re under a certain age (usually 40), it can often become much less expensive to join a club. Ask about junior or executive memberships, and if you do that be sure to also understand what, if any, restrictions there are.
Some of these will limit your guest play, have tee time blackouts, or restrict the ability to play in Club tournaments.
But in most cases, clubs are recognizing the importance of bringing in younger members – and it’s often far more financially feasible to join when you’re younger.
11) How much are the monthly dues?
Monthly dues can range from a few hundred dollars a month up to $2,000 a month or more depending on the club. Most will likely fall in the $400-800 a month range.
Make sure you understand both how much the dues are, as well as what their process is for adjusting those dues. Do the members have to vote on it? If it’s a non-equity club, is there a schedule for raising dues each year?
I was misled about this at the first club joined, so understanding how this works is important – especially if this is your first time joining a club.
12) What additional monthly fees with the club?
Locker fee? Club storage fee? Golf Carts? Service charges? Gratuity? All of these can be extra on top of your dues. For instance, I have a $16 locker fee and $10 “service fee” (which I still don’t understand) at my club. If I used club storage, that would be more as well.
The point is, make sure you understand how much you’re actually paying each month.
13) Are there currently any assessments?
This plays off of the last question. When country clubs have to do big capital projects like a new clubhouse or major course remodels, they’ll often assess the members a significant amount. Make sure there are no outstanding assessments on top of your initiation and dues, or if there are, make sure you understand what you’re on the hook for.
This can often be thousands of dollars extra on top of your dues and initiation.
At my first club there was a $65 assessment to each full member every month for a clubhouse that was built years earlier. As a junior member, I was told I’d never have to pay an assessment because they wanted to “make joining easy on you youngin’s.” Verbatim, that’s what they said.
Less than a year later they added on a $10 assessment fee for junior members.
So if there are assessments and they say something like that, get it in writing.
14) What is the long-term plan for the club? Is there major work that is about to be done? Who is paying for it?
Maybe there are no current assessments or major projects, but are there some out on the horizon? Are they going to tear up the course for a redesign right after you join? Build a new clubhouse?
Try and understand their 5-year plan as much as possible, to avoid inconvenient or expensive surprises.
15) Are there food and beverage minimums?
Many clubs have a set amount of money you have to spend on food and drinks each quarter. Often this isn’t crazy at around $100-150 a quarter. But keep in mind that this can sometimes not include alcohol, and doesn’t include tax or gratuity.
15) Are there restrictions on guest play?
Clubs vary wildly when it comes to guests. Some only allow you to bring guests on certain days of the week or at certain times of day. Others won’t let spouses bring guests. Some only let you bring so many guests each month. If you’re hoping to join a club and then host all your non-member buddies every Saturday morning, you might be in for a rude awakening. So just be sure to ask about guest policies if you’re planning to host a lot
16) How much are guest fees?
Often fees will differ on the weekend vs a weekday and can vary in the offseason as well. There can also be a big difference between a club that has $50 guest fees and $150 guest fees in terms of who wants to come play with you.
So if you plan to host a lot, and your budget-conscious, this is worth knowing.
17) Are there restrictions on family or spouse play?
Some clubs limit the ability for children or spouses to play certain times a week, or play in certain tournaments.
If you have kids or a spouse that are avid golfers and they want to be able to use the club frequently on their own, be sure you understand any limitations.
18) What constitutes a family? Are prices different?
You may find that there are different prices or dues for a solo member vs. a family membership.
Again, if you plan to enjoy the club with family members, understand exactly what this looks like.
19) Are there tee times at the club?
Some clubs have a no tee time policy. You just show up and wait in line. There are pros and cons to this, but it’s worth knowing before you join.
20) When can you book tee times?
Can you book a month in advance? A week? If you’re someone who plans things out well in advance or hosts a lot of out-of-town guests, this can be good to know.
Also worth asking what time reservations open up. At busier clubs, those primes weekend tee times can get snapped up real quick if you’re not on the ball with registration.
21) Are there certain periods of the week when times are blocked off?
Often there might be certain groups that play at the same time each week. Maybe it’s a men’s league on Thursday afternoons. Or a ladies 9 hole on Tuesday mornings. Understand what those are in case they happen to fall on the days/times that you typically like to play.
22) Is there a day the course is closed?
Many private clubs are closed one day a week for maintenance – often on Monday or Tuesday. Ask if your club is. Also, ask if members can still go out and walk the course during that time.
23) Can I see the tee sheet for next weekend?
Asking to do this gives you an idea of how busy the club is, and how realistic it will be for you to make easy tee times. Some clubs aren’t very busy and you can almost always find a time that works to play. Others have a lottery system for weekend tee times.
24) Is there a waiting list?
You might be getting really excited to join your new home away from home, just to find out there’s a months-long waitlist. At most clubs this hasn’t been an issue for the last 5-10 years, but with golf picking up over the past 12 months, many clubs are filling their membership rosters.
25) Do you need a member sponsor?
Some clubs are happy to let anyone in that wants to join. Others ask that you have at least one, if not multiple, current members sponsor you.
If you’re looking at a specific club, you likely already know if this is an issue or not, but if you don’t know anyone? Time to start networking.
The membership director at the club in some cases can help with introductions as well.
26) Are there any reciprocal courses?
You usually see this more often with low to mid-tier clubs than you do with the higher-end clubs, which is unfortunate.
But honestly, the best perk of my first club membership was they had about a dozen reciprocal clubs in the region that I could use whenever I wanted for free.
I did this on a regular basis, and at least a handful of the reciprocal courses were quite a bit better than mine.
So this could be a very nice perk if you’re someone who travels around your region often.
27) What does the membership look like? Average age?
Club demographics can make a big difference in the enjoyment of your membership.
Are most of the members younger professionals? 70+ year old retirees? What’s the culture like? Are there regular games and tournaments for people like you?
Getting an idea of club demographics before you commit is one of the biggest things people overlook.
You’ll find lots of different types of people at a country club, but ultimately one of the best reasons to join is to be around like-minded people. So make sure the membership lines up with what you’re expecting
28) Are there incentives for joining (guest pass, pro shop credit)?
Depending on how actively the club is recruiting members, you may have more room to negotiate than you think.
Common things to ask for when you join are:
- Lower initiation fee
- Guest passes
- Pro shop credit
- Free or decreased dues for a number of months
- Discounts on food
But if the club is basically at capacity? Good luck making much progress here.
29) What practice facilities does the course have?
Are you the kind of person that wants to hit the range every day on your lunch break, or grind on your short game? Make sure you check out the practice facilities before you join.
This can make a huge difference in how much you’re able to use and enjoy the club, and if there is more in the way of practice areas, it will be that much more enjoyable to spread out and use them.
30) How Far Away is the Club
This is a bigger deal than you might think. My club is about 25 minutes away from my house. This is just far enough that I rarely go out to hit balls on my lunch break.
Is it worth it to you to drive farther for a better course?
Or would you settle for something that isn’t quite as good, but is 2 minutes away.
Perhaps you’re lucky and the club you want to join is close by.
But don’t discount drive times. Throw in traffic, and it can easily add an extra hour that you’re away from home if your club is far away.
So be realistic about how willing you are to make the commute.
31) Will I Actually Use This
Finally, the most important question to ask yourself is: will I actually use this?
The last thing you want to do is spend thousands of dollars on both initiation and dues each year, to then never actually be able to go out and golf.
When I first joined a club, I was golfing 4-5 times a week. My initiation being under 30 was $1500, and my dues were $210 a month.
I was saving money by joining.
Then I got older, joined a nicer club, and stopped playing quite so often.
My membership became a luxury.
This past year I shudder to think about what my average cost per round is.
But I still get tremendous enjoyment out of my club membership, the people at the club, and the escape from day-to-day life.
For me, it’s worth it to have a membership where I play 2-6 times per month. You may have different goals in joining.
But ask yourself why you’re joining, and then be realistic about how much you’ll be able to enjoy the club.
From there, you should be able to make the right decision
A Few More Frequently Asked Questions About Joining a Country Club
Why Do People Belong to Country Clubs?
You may still be trying to figure out why even do this in the first place. There are a lot of reasons people join country clubs. Just a few are:
- To build relationships and a sense of community with friends both new and old
- To assist in business matters and to be able to host clients
- For all the amenities such as dining, gym, golf, pools, tennis etc.
- If you golf a lot, it could be more financially responsible to join a country club, while also elevating your golf experience
Those are just a few. Everyone has their own reasons for wanting to belong to a club, but there are certainly a lot of potential benefits for the right person or family.
What is a “National Membership” at a Golf Club?
A National Membership is a specific tier of membership at a golf club for people who live outside the immediate area of the club.
Usually in order to be eligible your primary residence can’t be within 50-150 miles of the club. The exact distance will vary by club.
A National Membership often (but not always) has a lower initiation fee and lower monthly dues, but restricts the amount you can play each year. Often this will be 12 rounds/trips a year.
So if you have a second home or a place you visit frequently for vacation, a national membership could be a good way to get into a more prestigious club without having to fork out quite as much money.
Are Millenials Joining Country Clubs?
If you’d asked this question 10 or even 5 years ago, the answer would by and large be: not really.
But in a post-COVID world, golf is having a massive resurgence, and many clubs are seeing more younger members join than ever.
There are hundreds of clubs in the US with a significantly aging demographic. So we’re seeing many forward-thinking country clubs, make dedicated efforts to appeal to younger golfers as the future of their clubs depends on them. With golf becoming a great part of the culture lexicon, and it becoming “cool” (again?) we’re actually seeing more younger members join clubs than ever before.
How Do You Join a Country Club?
You’d think it would be obvious, but based on how many times I’ve been asked this, it definitely isn’t.
Part of the reason why it can be tough to figure out how to join a country club, is because it’s going to be different depending on the club.
In most cases, the club will have a “Membership” section on their website with a contact form. You’ll fill it out, and the club’s Membership Director will reach out to you to schedule a visit. This will usually include a tour, lunch, and a chance to play the golf course.
Some of the more exclusive clubs require you to be invited by an existing member, and in some cases, you’ll then need to get multiple members to sponsor you.
These clubs are the exception rather than the rule, but if you’re looking to join a place of particularly high stature, especially if it’s in a more old school region like the Northeast, then this may be the case.
What Other Questions Should You Ask About Country Club Membership?
There you go, 31 questions you should ask yourself and/or the club before joining a country club (and a few other things you should know).
What did I miss? Drop a comment on some of the most important questions you think golfers should ask before joining a new club.
Already a Member of a Club?
Oh, and are you already a member of a private club? Then you might be interested in our golf society, the Eighty Club.
If you’re someone who likes to show off their home course to people who appreciate it, like to experience other interesting courses, and like to geek out about golf on the internet? You’ll feel right at home.